Saturday, April 18, 2015

John Shaw's Guide to Digital Nature Photography by John Shaw

book cover
John Shaw's Guide to Digital Nature Photography
by John Shaw

ISBN-13: 9780770434984
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Amphoto Books
Released: March 17, 2015

Source: Review copy from the publisher through Blogging for Books.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
Photography legend John Shaw returns with his much-anticipated guide to digital nature photography, complete with more than 250 extraordinarily beautiful photographs. In his first-ever book on digital photography, John Shaw provides in-depth advice on everything from equipment and lenses, composition, and close-ups, to up-to-date information on software filtration and the histogram. In addition, he offers inspirational and frank insight that goes far beyond the nuts and bolts of photography, explaining that successful photos come from having a vision, practicing, and then acquiring the equipment needed to accomplish the intention.

My Review:
John Shaw's Guide to Digital Nature Photography is a book about getting the most out of digital single-lens-reflex (DSLR) cameras and its gear. If you have a Nikon D3 or similar camera, or if you have thousands of dollars to spend on a camera body, lens, filters, software, tripods, and other equipment, then this book will make sure you get the best pictures that you can from that gear. It also explains what gear is good for what type of pictures, so you don't end up buying gear that you'll rarely use.

About 95% of this book is about selecting and using the DSLR camera equipment. The remaining 5% applied to using any digital camera. He generally assumed the reader had heard this more basic, general information before and only covered it as a quick review.

Unfortunately, I took the book description of "easily digestible and useful for every type of photographer" seriously. I've taken a photography course before, but it was for point-and-shoot cameras and mainly covered composition. I wanted to learn about more manual control of digital cameras (f stops, ISO, etc.) and how to get better nature photographs, so I thought this would be the book for me. From the start, though, he assumed the reader knew what f stops, lens sizes, etc. were about and only later briefly described that information to "remind" the reader. A glossary of terms or concepts would have been very helpful for someone like me, but there wasn't one.

His photographs where lovely, but he didn't explain the reasons he chose certain gear and settings for the photographs. I enjoyed looking at them, but I learned very little from them. He included only a few illustrations that demonstrated what he was explaining in the text. When he did, it was an immediate, "oh, I understand now!" for me. However, he generally told the reader to go out and experiment until you understand. So I ended up understanding very little of what appeared to be very detailed and helpful information since it didn't apply to the camera I actually own.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Most Powerful Idea in the World by William Rosen

book cover
The Most Powerful Idea in the World
by William Rosen

ISBN-13: 9781400067053
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Random House
Released: June 1, 2010

Source: Borrowed from my local library.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
In The Most Powerful Idea in the World, William Rosen tells the story of the men responsible for the Industrial Revolution and the machine that drove it—the steam engine. In the process he tackles the question that has obsessed historians ever since: What made eighteenth-century Britain such fertile soil for inventors? Rosen’s answer focuses on a simple notion that had become enshrined in British law the century before: that people had the right to own and profit from their ideas.

The result was a period of frantic innovation revolving particularly around the promise of steam power. Rosen traces the steam engine’s history from its early days as a clumsy but sturdy machine, to its coming-of-age driving the wheels of mills and factories, to its maturity as a transporter for people and freight by rail and by sea. Along the way we meet inventors as Thomas Newcomen and James Watt, scientists including Robert Boyle and Joseph Black, and philosophers John Locke and Adam Smith, as well as learn about the technologies and developments necessary for the creation of steam engines.

My Review:
The Most Powerful Idea in the World is a "Connections"-style book about the developments in technology and ideas that were needed to create an effective steam engine. The author covered the economic, legal, and social issues that came together to foster invention. He also followed various threads of technological developments from ancient times to 1829 that were needed for the creation of steam locomotives. He talked about many inventors and inventions along the way, including developments in iron working, precision measurement, textiles, mining, and science.

If you're looking for a book that clearly explains how each invention worked and includes diagrams, this isn't it. There were only a few diagrams, and the descriptions in the text didn't give enough information for someone not already familiar with the science and engineering behind it. Since the descriptions didn't really enlighten me, they actually went on longer than I needed to understand the overall story of development. A timeline would have been useful, too. The author reset where we were in time with each new topic. Each technology or idea led to the next within each chapter, but I started to lose track of when the events of other chapters happened in relation to the one I was currently reading.

Overall, this is a fairly readable book with a lot of interesting connections about the legal protection and technology needed for the development of the first practical steam locomotive. Just keep in mind that it's a bit technical while still not fully explaining how the various technologies work.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Just Like Me, Climbing a Tree by Durga Yael Bernhard

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Just Like Me, Climbing a Tree
by Durga Yael Bernhard

ISBN-13: 978-1-937786-34-2
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Wisdom Press
Released: April 2015

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Publisher's Website:
Just Like Me, Climbing a Tree explores 12 of the most distinctive trees from across the globe. Yael Bernhard’s playful poem winds through the pages and imagines the many discoveries found while climbing a tree, whether in our backyards or on the other side of the planet. Bernhard's paintings show her careful research of each tree and draw us up into the branches to view new creatures, people, and places.

The appendix to the book offers more facts about the trees, such as their range, habits, uses, and interesting cultural beliefs about the tree. This section will help answer questions that curious young minds might have.

My Review:
Just Like Me, Climbing a Tree is a children's book recommended for "ages 5 and up." The poem is a simple but charming "what if" narrative of a child about the different creatures and things you might find when you climb a tree. I loved climbing trees as a child (and still do), and it reminded me of those adventures.

The pictures show the tree with a local child, setting, and creatures. It's fun to spot the creatures "hiding" in the tree. Parent's may have to explain what some creatures--like sloths--are to young children. There is a label for each tree that tells the tree's common name, scientific name, and the location. This helps you to match up the tree to the further information in the back. There is also a world map on the inner cover that shows where each tree is located.

Further information about the trees is given in the back. It's adult level reading, but much of it would be interesting to a child interested in trees. The trees shown in the poem (and covered in the back) are: Weeping Fig (in Cambodia), Montezuma Cypress (Mexico), Mango (Guinea, West Africa), Monterey Pine (California), Baobab (South Africa), Lychee (Hawaii), Weeping Willow (Holland), Kapok (Brazil), Olive (Israel), Gingko (China), White Mulberry (Australia), Southern Live Oak (Southeast United States).

I recommend this is a fun and potentially educational book to parents of children who love climbing trees. The author even has a note at the end about climbing safely.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: View an page from the book on the publisher's website.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Experiencing Rome by Steven L. Tuck

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Experiencing Rome:
A Visual Exploration of Antiquity's Greatest Empire
by Professor Steven L. Tuck, Ph.D.

DVD & Paperback book
36 lectures
30 minutes per lecture
Publisher: The Great Courses

Source: Bought through the publisher catalog. (The DVD format can drop under $100 when on sale.)

DVD Description, Modified from Website:
Rome spanned three continents, ruled over millions of people, lasted more than a thousand years, and left an enduring legacy. Yet, in an empire in which perhaps only one person in ten was literate, how was Rome able to so successfully communicate its civic and cultural values or project a knowledge of Roman power to every corner of the realm?

In Experiencing Rome, Professor Steven L. Tuck offers a unique way to understand the relationships that connected Rome, its citizens, and its subjects, and to see the visual and experiential ways in which Rome made and kept those relationships clear. By learning how Rome communicated in so many visually symbolic ways, you also gain insight into how similar tools are still used today.

Featuring more than 1,000 visuals, Experiencing Rome draws on computer animations of Roman villas, actual artifacts, and maps, along with photography of Rome's statuary, mosaics, sculptural reliefs, buildings, public spaces, and monuments. Many of those photographs were taken by Professor Tuck on the numerous study trips he has led to Italy and England. His discussions of the details behind many of the photos add immensely to their impact. Similarly, his exceptionally well-rounded background in history, classics, classical art, archaeology, and even epigraphy—the study of ancient inscriptions—adds an extra dimension of richness to every discussion.

My Review:
Experiencing Rome is a set of DVD lectures on Roman values and social structures as understood through the architecture, art, and written records that have been left behind. The DVD set also came with a course book that summarized and covered the highlights of each lecture. The professor clearly conveyed the information and covered a lot of information without leaving me feeling overwhelmed.

This course is about the culture, not a history of politics and wars. Each lecture was focused around a structure, like houses, temples, forums, theaters, amphitheaters, baths, or harbors. He takes you through a triumphal procession or a gladiatorial combat or a day at the races while explaining the cultural significance of the statues you saw while entering, where you'd sit, etc. If you're interested in Roman culture and how they were so successful at spreading that culture, then you'll probably enjoy these lectures.

The professor used a good number of photographs, short videos, reconstructive drawings, and animations to help illustrate his points. He did a good job of explaining how he came to various conclusions. I'd highly recommend this DVD lecture series.

If you've seen this lecture series, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion in the comments.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Belles of Williamsburg by Mary Maillard

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The Belles of Williamsburg:
The Courtship Correspondence of Eliza Fisk Harwood and Tristrim Lowther Skinner, 1839-1849
edited by Mary Maillard

ISBN-13: 9780991789313
ebook: 460 pages
Publisher: Independent Book Publishers Association
Released: January 1, 2015

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through

Book Description from Goodreads:
After the Twelfth Night Party in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1841 – thirteen years old and brimming with hopeful exuberance – Eliza Fisk Harwood wrote her close friend, “Trim” Skinner of Edenton, North Carolina, that she had danced so long she wore holes into her new satin shoes and hose. Their subsequent correspondence charts Eliza’s education, coming of age, courtships and engagement, and Tristrim’s practical education in the management of the Skinner family’s farms. At the age of twenty-one – ten years after Trim had made her a secret promise and sealed it with a ring – Eliza married him and left her childhood home to become a Carolina plantation mistress.

Eliza Harwood's detailed letters are a popular masterpiece of social commentary– perhaps the only such record of Williamsburg college life during the 1840s. More importantly, the Harwood-Skinner correspondence sheds new light on the complex social, familial, and romantic elements of antebellum courtship in a decade not well represented among available primary sources. Eloquent and considered, the letters are a pleasure to read and would appeal to students, historians, and non-academics interested in the South and its history.

My Review:
The Belles of Williamsburg is a collection of courtship letters between Eliza Fisk Harwood and Tristrim Lowther Skinner dating from 1839-1849. An introduction gives the reader an overall idea of what is going on during the correspondence and an epilogue gives an overview their lives after they were married. The initial letters were mainly about what college students are boarding at the Williamsburg house, who is marrying, and who is dying. As Eliza gets older and especially as the courtship becomes serious, the letters talk more about Eliza's and Tristrim's own lives.

I appreciate that the editor included excerpts from the novel that Eliza thought mimicked her own courtship. Having these excerpts helped me to better understand what Eliza and Tristrim were referring to and going through in their own courtship. There were also about 100 pages of end notes and such to give further information about the people and events mentioned in the letters. The editor's notes certainly help to tie the "story" together.

I think these letters will be of most interest to people who are interested in courtship letters of the time, those interested in Williamsburg at this time period, or those who are somehow related to these families. If you're interested in a sense of what everyday life was like, it's there but generally only in passing. They were catching up on family news or asking "please write more frequently," not (usually) describing what they did that day. Overall, I'd recommend this book, but it's probably going to be of interest to only a limited audience.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Rejection Proof by Jia Jiang

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Rejection Proof
by Jia Jiang

ISBN-13: 9780804141383
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Harmony
Released: April 14, 2015

Source: Review copy from the publisher through Amazon Vine.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
Jia Jiang came to the United States with the dream of being the next Bill Gates. But despite early success in the corporate world, his first attempt to pursue his entrepreneurial dream ended in rejection. Jia was crushed, and spiraled into a period of deep self doubt. But he realized that his fear of rejection was a bigger obstacle than any single rejection would ever be, and he needed to find a way to cope with being told no without letting it destroy him.

Thus was born his "100 days of rejection" experiment, during which he willfully sought rejection on a daily basis--from requesting a lesson in sales from a car salesman (no) to asking a flight attendant if he could make an announcement on the loud speaker (yes) to his famous request to get Krispy Kreme doughnuts in the shape of Olympic rings (yes, with a viral video to prove it).

Jia learned that even the most preposterous wish may be granted if you ask in the right way, and shares the secret of successful asking, how to pick targets, and how to tell when an initial no can be converted into something positive. But more important, he learned techniques for steeling himself against rejection and ways to develop his own confidence--a plan that can't be derailed by a single setback. Filled with great stories and valuable insight, Rejection Proof is a fun and thoughtful examination of how to overcome fear and dare to live more boldly.

My Review:
My review on Amazon.

As a member of Amazon Vine, I'm able to review books through them, but--as I understand the terms--I'm only allowed to post my review on Amazon. Because I liked this book, I'm posting a description of the book here with a direct link to my review on Amazon.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Death at the Priory by James Ruddick

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Death at the Priory
by James Ruddick

ISBN-13: 9780871138323
Hardcover: 209 pages
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
Released: 2001; January 1, 2002

Source: Borrowed from my local library.

Book Description from Goodreads:
In 1875, the beautiful widow Florence Ricardo married the handsome and successful young attorney Charles Bravo and made her home at the Priory, a Gothic mansion in London, hoping to escape the scandals of her past. But Bravo proved to be a brutal and conniving man, and the marriage was far from happy. Then one night he suddenly collapsed, and three days later died an agonizing death. His doctors immediately determined that he had been poisoned.

The graphic and sensational details of the case captured the public imagination of Victorian England. The investigation dominated the press for weeks, and the list of suspects grew to include Florence; her secret lover, the eminent doctor James Gully; her longtime companion and housekeeper, Mrs. Cox; and the recently dismissed stableman, George Griffiths. But ultimately no murderer could be determined, and despite the efforts of numerous historians, criminologists, and other writers since (including Agatha Christie), the case has never been definitively solved.

Now James Ruddick retells this gripping story of love, greed, brutality, and betrayal among the elite, offering an intimate portrait of Victorian culture and of one woman's struggle to live in this repressive society -- and unmasking the true murderer for the first time. Simultaneously a murder mystery, a colorful social history, and a modern-day detective tale, Death at the Priory is a thrilling read and a window into a fascinating time.

My Review:
Death at the Priory is a true crime book about an unsolved murder that occurred in 1876 in England. The book described Florence's life leading up to her husband's murder and gave social and historical details to help the reader understand what her life was like. He then described the murder using the information that was publicly available at the time of the murder. He then eliminated suspects using his research into crime records that weren't publicly available and into what happened to the various suspects afterwards.

The author came up with a scenario for the murder that might be correct, but a lot depended on people not acting very logically (which leaves room for doubt). So the author didn't convince me that the murder had finally been solved. I didn't like how the author acted like certain conclusions were obvious and then pull out information we hadn't heard yet so we could catch up. I felt like he simply pulled out what supported his ideas. I was left wondering if there were potential clues that he also uncovered that he never told us.

I found the historical and social context interesting. Overall, I enjoyed reading the book and would recommend the book to readers who like true crime and history.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.